Who were the Celts?

Group of societies with a common language of origin that was distributed throughout Europe, approximately from 1200 a. C.

Date From 1200 a. C. to 43 d. C.
Location Europe.
Form of government Independent tribes.
Religion Polytheism.
Economy Agriculture, livestock and trade.

Who were the Celts?

The term Celtic refers to a group of societies with a common language of origin that was distributed throughout Europe from 1200 BC. C. approximately.

The Celts spread throughout most of Europe until they were subdued first by the Romans and then by the Germanic peoples (Visigoths, Franks, Burgundians, Vandals, etc.) until they practically disappeared as communities. However, both its language and many of its cultural traits have endured to this day.

The Celtic peoples never formed a confederation or a state, but only had their language in common and certain customs and traditions.

The name “Celtic” comes from the name given by the Greeks , whereas the Romans called them “Gauls.”

Location of the Celts

Towards the 6th or 5th century BC. C., different Celtic tribes installed in the center of Europe began to disperse towards the east, reaching the Anatolian plateau; towards the west, until the British Isles, and towards the south, where they occupied the north of Italy and attacked the city of Rome in 387 a. C.

Around the 5th century BC. C. they settled in the British Isles, French Brittany and in some regions of the Iberian Peninsula. These groups resisted the Roman conquest until they were completely subdued in AD 43. C.

Some tribes remained in the British Isles and later returned to the mainland, where they settled in the region of French Brittany.

Location of the Celtic tribes (dark brown) and their cultural expansion (light brown).

Characteristics of the Celts

The main characteristics of the Celts are the following:

  • They lived in walled villagesfrom where they traded with neighboring populations.
  • They built circular stone houses with a conical thatched roof.
  • They were renowned warriors and skilled horsemen. They wore pants, jewelry, and a long cape and helmet, but used to go into battle naked. His weapons were the iron sword, the spear and a leather shield. Some texts mention that they used to keep the heads of defeated enemies as a trophy.
  • Although they were brave and risky warriors, they had no clear strategies and were quite undisciplined. As a consequence, they could not resist the advance of the organized Roman army.
  • The rich Celtic traditions were passed down through the bards. In their training, the bards had to memorize all the literary, historical and mythological narratives of the Celtic tradition and specialized in narrating them to the group.
  • The situation of women in society was quite egalitarianwith respect to other societies of the time. They could be warriors and political or religious leaders. They had their property, could get divorced and had independence from the decisions of their husbands.

Political and social organization of the Celts

Political organization

Each Celtic tribe had a chief , usually a warrior, who could be a man or a woman. He received advice from the Druids, who could exercise justice.

Social organization

The Celts were organized into tribes , each of which had its own customs . In general, each tribe lived in a village. Celtic society was divided according to the activities it carried out. There was a higher hierarchy made up of political leaders and warriors, and also by the group that was the depository of astronomical, religious, mythological, literary knowledge, etc. These were the druids, vates, and bards.

Druids were men or women who performed functions related to religion, medicine, education, and justice. They were considered wise by the members of the group.

At a lower level were the rest of the villagers, who were peasants and artisans.

Celtic religion

The first Celts were polytheists . In addition, they worshiped certain elements of nature . They attached great importance to forests and considered some trees sacred, for example oak.

By not constituting a unified state, the various Celtic groups worshiped different divinities, although they seem to have shared some. However, these gods received different names according to the regions where they were worshiped.

Some of the most common Celtic gods were:

God Function
Lug, Lugh or Lugus Present in all Celtic groups, he was the god of all human abilities and activities. He was above the other gods.
Dana, Dannan, Danu Universal mother goddess.
Morrigan Goddess (in some versions god) of war.
Teutates or Tutatis One of the main gods among the Gauls and the Bretons. He was considered the protector of those peoples.
Belenus God of the sun, light and fire.
Cernunnos God of animal spirit, related to fertility and prosperity.

Starting with the Roman conquest, the Celts were Christianized and many gods were assimilated to the Christian saints.

Celtic customs

The most relevant customs of the Celts are the following:

  • They were excellent goldsmiths. They stood out in the manufacture of bronze elements.
  • Its most important economic activities were agricultureand livestock . However, as they made contact with other peoples, especially during the Roman expansion, commercial activity became more important .
  • The motifs of bows, spirals, and synthetic animal and plant figures are characteristic of Celtic art. In the beginning they were used to decorate bronze or stone pieces. When they were Christianized, they were used in the illumination of books and in the ornamentation of sacred objects.


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